Bad luck and trouble, p.8
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       Bad Luck and Trouble, p.8

         Part #11 of Jack Reacher series by Lee Child

  three tries before the files erase themselves.”

  She started the motor and eased away from the curb. Pulled a neat U-turn in the strip mall’s fire lane and headed back north to La Cienega.

  The man in the dark blue suit watched them go. He was low down behind the wheel of his dark blue Chrysler sedan, forty yards away, in a slot that belonged to the pharmacy. He opened his cell phone and dialed his boss.

  “This time they ignored Franz’s place completely,” he said. “They talked to the landlord instead. Then they were in the post office a long time. I think Franz must have been mailing the stuff to himself. That’s why we couldn’t find it. And they’ve probably got it now.”


  Neagley plugged the flash memory into a socket on the side of her laptop computer. Reacher watched the screen. Nothing happened for a second and then an icon appeared. It looked like a stylized picture of the physical object she had just attached. It was labeled No Name. Neagley ran her forefinger over the touch pad and then tapped it twice.

  The icon blossomed into a full-screen demand for a password.

  “Damn,” she said.

  “Inevitable,” he said.


  Reacher had busted computer passwords many times before, back in the day. As always, the technique was to consider the person and think like them. Be them. Serious paranoids used long complex mixes of lower-case and upper-case letters and numbers that meant nothing to anyone, including themselves. Those passwords were effectively unbreakable. But Franz had never been paranoid. He had been a relaxed guy, serious about but simultaneously a little amused by security demands. And he was a words guy, not a numbers guy. He was a man of interests and enthusiasms. Full of affections and loyalties. Middlebrow tastes. A memory like an elephant.

  Reacher said, “Angela, Charlie, Miles Davis, Dodgers, Koufax, Panama, Pfeiffer, M*A*S*H, Brooklyn, Heidi, or Jennifer.”

  Neagley wrote them all down on a new page in her spiral-bound notebook.

  “Why those?” she asked.

  “Angela and Charlie are obvious. His family.”

  “Too obvious.”

  “Maybe. Maybe not. Miles Davis was his favorite music, the Dodgers were his favorite team, and Sandy Koufax was his favorite player.”

  “Possibilities. What’s Panama?”

  “Where he was deployed at the end of 1989. I think that was the place he had the most professional satisfaction. He’ll have remembered it.”

  “Pfeiffer as in Michelle Pfeiffer?”

  “His favorite actress.”

  “Angela looks a little like her, doesn’t she?”

  “There you go.”


  “His all-time favorite movie,” Reacher said.

  “More than ten years ago, when you knew him,” Neagley said. “There have been a lot of good movies since then.”

  “Passwords come from down deep.”

  “It’s too short. Most software asks for a minimum of six characters now.”

  “OK, scratch M*A*S*H.”


  “Where he was born.”

  “I didn’t know that.”

  “Not many people did. They moved west when he was little. That’s what would make it a good password.”


  “His first serious girlfriend. Hot as hell, apparently. Terrific in the sack. He was crazy about her.”

  “I didn’t know anything about that. Clearly I was excluded from the guy talk.”

  “Clearly,” Reacher said. “Karla Dixon was, too. We didn’t want to look emotional.”

  “I’m crossing Heidi off the list. Only five letters, and he was too much into Angela now anyway. He wouldn’t have felt right using an old girlfriend’s name for a password, however hot and terrific she was. I’m crossing Pfeiffer off for the same reason. And who was Jennifer? His second girlfriend? Was she hot, too?”

  “Jennifer was his dog,” Reacher said. “When he was a kid. A little black mutt. Lived for eighteen years. Broke him up when it died.”

  “Possibility, then. But that’s six. We’ve only got three tries.”

  “We’ve got twelve tries,” Reacher said. “Four envelopes, four flash memories. If we start with the earliest postmark we can afford to burn the first three. That information is old anyway.”

  Neagley laid the four flash memories on the hotel desk in strict date order. “You sure he wouldn’t have changed his password daily?”

  “Franz?” Reacher said. “Are you kidding? A guy like Franz latches onto a word that means something to him and he sticks with it forever.”

  Neagley clicked the oldest memory unit into the port and waited until the corresponding icon appeared on the screen. She clicked on it and tabbed the cursor straight to the password box.

  “OK,” she said. “You want to nominate a priority order?”

  “Do the people names first. Then the place names. I think that’s how it would have worked for him.”

  “Is Dodgers a people name?”

  “Of course it is. Baseball is played by people.”

  “OK. But we’ll start with music.” She typed MilesDavis and hit enter. There was a short pause and then the screen redrew and came back with the dialog box again and a note in red: Your first attempt was incorrect.

  “One down,” she said. “Now sports.”

  She tried Dodgers.


  “Two down.” She typed Koufax.

  The hard drive inside her laptop chattered and the screen went blank.

  “What’s happening?” Reacher asked.

  “It’s dumping the data,” she said. “Erasing it. It wasn’t Koufax. Three down.”

  She pulled the flash memory out of the port and tossed it through a long silver arc into the trash can. Inserted the second unit in its place. Typed Jennifer.


  “Four down,” she said. “Not his puppy.”

  She tried Panama.


  “Five down.” She tried Brooklyn.

  The screen went blank and the hard drive chattered.

  “Six down,” she said. “Not his old hood. You’re zip for six, Reacher.”

  The second unit clattered into the trash and she plugged in the third.


  “Your turn. I seem to have lost my touch.”

  “What about his old service number?”

  “I doubt it. He was a words guy, not a numbers guy. And for me anyway my number was the same as my Social Security number. Same for him, probably, which would make it too obvious.”

  “What would you use?”

  “Me? I am a numbers guy. Top row of the keyboard, all in a line, easy to get to. No typing skills required.”

  “What number would you use?”

  “Six characters? I’d probably write out my birthday, month, day, year, and find the nearest prime number.” Then he thought for a second and said, “Actually, that would be a problem, because there would be two equally close, one exactly seven less and one exactly seven more. So I guess I’d use the square root instead, rounded to three decimal places. Ignore the decimal point, that would give me six numbers, all different.”

  “Weird,” Neagley said. “I think we can be sure Franz wouldn’t do anything like that. Probably nobody else in the world would do anything like that.”

  “Therefore it would be a good password.”

  “What was his first car?”

  “Some piece of shit, probably.”

  “But guys like cars, right? What was his favorite car?”

  “I don’t like cars.”

  “Think like him, Reacher. Did he like cars?”

  “He always wanted a red Jaguar XKE.”

  “Would that be worth a try?”

  A man of interests and enthusiasms. Full of affections and loyalties.

  “Maybe,” Reacher said. “It’s certainly going to be something special to him. Something talisma
nic, something that would give him a feeling of warmth just recalling the word. Either an early role model or a longstanding object of desire or affection. So the XKE might work.”

  “Should I try it? We’ve only got six left.”

  “I’d try it for sure if we had six hundred left.”

  “Wait a minute,” Neagley said. “What about what Angela told us? The way he kept on saying you do not mess with the special investigators?”

  “That would make a hell of a long password.”

  “So break it down. Either special investigators, or do not mess.”

  A memory like an elephant. Reacher nodded. “We had a good time back then, basically, didn’t we? So remembering the old days might have given him a warm feeling. Especially stuck out there in Culver City, busy doing nothing much. People enjoy nostalgia, don’t they? Like that song, ‘The Way We Were.’”

  “It was a movie, too.”

  “There you go. It’s a universal feeling.”

  “Which should we try first?”

  Reacher heard Charlie in his mind, the little boy’s piping treble: You do not mess.

  “Do not mess,” he said. “Nine letters.”

  Neagley typed donotmess.

  Hit enter.


  “Shit,” she said.

  She typed specialinvestigators. Held her finger over the enter key.

  “That’s very long,” Reacher said.

  “Yes or no?”

  “Try it.”


  Neagley said, “Damn,” and went quiet.

  Charlie was still in Reacher’s mind. And his tiny chair, with the neat branded name at the top. He could see Franz’s steady hand at work. He could smell the smoking wood. A gift, father to son. Probably intended to be the first of many. Love, pride, commitment.

  “I like Charlie,” he said.

  “Me too,” Neagley said. “He’s a cute kid.”

  “No, for the password.”

  “Too obvious.”

  “He didn’t take this kind of stuff very seriously. He was going through the motions. Easier to put in any old thing than to reprogram the software to get around it.”

  “Still too obvious. And he had to be taking it seriously. At least this time. He was in big trouble and he was mailing stuff to himself.”

  “So it could be a double bluff. It’s obvious but it’s the last thing anyone would think of trying. That makes for a very effective password.”

  “Possible but unlikely.”

  “What are we going to find on there anyway?”

  “Something we really need to see.”

  “Try Charlie for me.”

  Neagley shrugged and typed Charlie.

  Hit enter.


  The hard disc spun up and the memory unit erased itself.

  “Nine down,” Neagley said. She pitched the third unit into the trash and plugged the fourth one in. The last one. “Three to go.”

  Reacher asked, “Who did he love before Charlie?”

  “Angela,” Neagley said. “Way too obvious.”

  “Try it.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “I’m a gambler.”

  “We’re down to our last three chances.”

  “Try it,” he said again.

  She typed Angela.

  Hit enter.


  “Ten down,” she said. “Two to go.”

  “What about Angela Franz?”

  “That’s even worse.”

  “What about her unmarried name?”

  “I don’t know what it was.”

  “Call her and ask.”

  “Are you serious?”

  “At least let’s find out.”

  So Neagley thumbed through her notebook and found the number and fired up her cell phone. Introduced herself again. Small-talked for a moment. Then Reacher heard her ask the question. He didn’t hear Angela’s answer. But he saw Neagley’s eyes widen a fraction, which for her was about the same thing as falling on the floor with shock.

  She hung up.

  “It was Pfeiffer,” she said.



  “Are they related?”

  “She didn’t say.”

  “So try it. It’s a perfect twofer. He feels good twice over and doesn’t have to feel disloyal at all.”

  Neagley typed Pfeiffer.

  Hit enter.

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